Seven players for the Matildas celebrate on the field. They are wearing yellow jerseys and are all smiling and hugging.

What the Matildas can teach us all about the meaning – and value – of ‘sport.’

The Matildas’ incredible performance at the 2023 FIFA World Cup has united a nation – and serves as a powerful reminder of the true meaning of ‘sport’.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated August 15, 2023

Respect, dedication, skill, teamwork… the Matildas remind us of the value of sport, and highlight why some cruel industries are trying to co-opt this word in an attempt to claw back social license.

The Australian Women’s Soccer Team’s matches havesmashed viewership records – claiming the title for the most-watched sporting event in Australia in almost two decades. The Matildas have had us on the edge of our seats – the tension of a ten-round shootout after a scoreless match was nail-biting for millions. They’ve reminded us of the true power of sport – that it has the capacity to highlight the best in us.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Australian players console members of the Denmark team after a loss.
The Matildas were praised following their good 'sportswomanship' after defeating Denmark and knocking them out of the World Cup.

The performance of the mighty Matilda’s at the 2023 FIFA World Cup has taken Australia by storm – and well it should. Their journey here has been long and hard-fought. After many years of sacrifice and perseverance, these dedicated athletes are finally getting the attention they deserve, and catapulting women’s soccer to the forefront of minds not just across Australia, but the world.

It’s hard to deny the electricity in the air, the excitement and the anticipation that has continued to build with each match. To be able to hear players talk about what it means to them to finally be recognised, to be able to look out into the packed crowds at the faces of children, knowing the impact that they are having on young hearts and minds, inspiring and empowering them to see themselves in the players, to maybe go on to be the next generation of professional athletes… the pride and emotion they feel is palpable, and contagious.

This is what sport is all about.

Sport is deeply entrenched in Aussie culture – it is at its core, an activity that unifies, inspires, excites and empowers, and celebrates skill, determination and focus.

Sport should always be a consensual competition between two or more opposing sides, with a set of rules understood by all participants and a shared objective.

To show ‘good sportsmanship’ is to be respectful, fair and ethical.

With all of this in mind, it may help to explain why the word ‘sport’ is often co-opted in an attempt to make animal cruelty more palatable to a caring (and largely sport-loving) Aussie audience.

When duck shooters say  ‘sport’  = they mean mass wildlife cruelty & slaughter.

It has to be hard work trying to convince people that shooting native ducks – vulnerable gentle animals already struggling to survive – is an okay thing to do. Imagine having a conversation with an average person and telling them you’re spending the weekend spraying shotgun pellets in the air at your local wetland, in the hopes you’ll seriously injure a native animal so badly that they will die, or at least fall out of the sky close enough to you that you can chase her down, pick her up by her head and swing her around by her neck until she’s dead.

It can’t be easy defending recreational native duck shooting – which is probably why a lot of shooters and those who defend this brutal activity like to refer to it as ‘sport’.

Animal cruelty aside – there’s minimal to no actual skill required to shoot ducks in Victoria, with a written ‘Waterfowl Identification’ test only requiring 75% accuracy and only requiring testing every 25 years. Juniors and international visitors don’t even have to sit the test – meaning they can legally fire shotguns at waterbirds without demonstrating any knowledge of which species are protected. It’s no wonder that every year a recreational duck shooting season is announced, endangered and protected birds are illegally killed. In 2017 an astonishing 113 Freckled ducks – one of the world’s rarest species of waterbird – were slaughtered by ‘recreational’ shooters in Victoria alone.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A duck shooter swings a duck around to kill it during a Victorian duck shooting season.
This is duck shooters’ idea of ‘sport’. What would you call it?

The Victorian hunting authority estimates that tens of thousands of waterbirds are injured every season. These animals can suffer horrendously with shotgun pellet injuries for hours, days, weeks or months before finally dying.

How utterly offensive must it be to a dedicated sportsperson, to be compared to a duck shooter.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Australian athletes appear on an Animals Australia billboard. The billboard is yellow with the text Duck Shooting is not a sport appearing across it.
Australian sportspeople united in 2016 as part of an Animals Australia campaign to highlight the brutality of recreational duck shooting (L-R: AFL footballer and Olympic basketballer Erin Phillips, AFL footballer David Zaharakis, AFL footballer & Olympic netballer Sharni Layton and Australian cricketer Peter Siddle)

When the greyhound racing industry says  ‘sport’  = it means exploiting gentle, sensitive dogs for gambling profits.

The greyhound racing industry is a huge proponent of using the word ‘sport’ as a term to describe racing dogs against each other to generate gambling profits. These dogs – in keeping with the theme – are often referred to as ‘athletes’ and are legally confined to concrete and wire pens for 23 hours a day.

This is an industry that was exposed in recent years for killing 17,000 of its ‘athletes’ every year, simply because they weren’t profitable enough.

As little as four in every 100 greyhounds born each year will make it beyond about 42 months of age.
Stephen Rushton SC
Counsel assisting the special commission of inquiry into the NSW greyhound industry

A recent study showed that dogs used for racing were put at a much higher risk of injury – as much as 400% in only their first 12 months on the track. “But athletes get injured”, you might hear from a greyhound racing proponent. Consider though, what a broken leg means for a dog whose only ‘purpose’ is to win races for gambling money. Sadly an injury to a greyhound may not only be painful and ‘career’-ending – it could be life-ending.

In 2023 alone, there have been 6,745 injuries reported to greyhounds on Australian race tracks. 74 dogs have reportedly been killed on tracks, with many others dogs “quietly disappearing” after being injured on tracks but not being killed on the day.

Greyhound racing is a gambling industry that treats dogs like commodities, not companions.

Injured dogs are at risk of being killed because they’re no
longer ‘profitable’ to the greyhound racing industry.

Cut through the PR spin – and remember what true sport is really about.

Those who have a vested interest in perpetuating animal cruelty will always try to find ways to endear themselves to the Australian public – they will use language and imagery to disguise cruel practices and systems, in an attempt to hide the truth from a population of caring and sport-loving people. They know that in order to exist that they must maintain their social license – and that’s not possible if they are going to be upfront and truthful with you.

But right now, as we bask in the glory and pride of a group of dedicated sportswomen who have injected some much-needed positivity, entertainment and empowerment to the public forum – take a moment to remember this feeling, and hold onto it for the next time you see the word ‘sport’ used to describe animal cruelty.

We won’t stop the PR machine that cruel industries rely on to exist – but we can remove this one tool from their arsenal.

The true beauty of sport lies not in the trophies (although, we imagine those must be nice), but in the reminder of who we really are and can be, as human beings. We are dedicated and determined, overcoming all manner of obstacles to reach not only our own goals, but our shared ones. We honour the things we share with our opponents that connect us and create mutual respect – our tenacity, our pursuit of being the best we can be. We support each other, through highs and lows, celebrations and mourning.

Sport is fair. Sport is consensual. Sport is an uplifting and uniting force that can show us the best that humans – and humanity – can be.

Don’t let animal cruelty apologists take that away.

What animal advocates can learn from the Matildas’ incredible journey.

If the Matildas have taught us anything, it’s the power of perseverance and dedication.

They remind us that a small group of people with a united goal can not only change the narrative, but start a ripple effect that extends across the world. True success is rarely achieved overnight but is more often the result of many years of effort, sacrifice, collaboration and teamwork – and celebration of the small wins along the way.

And – sports fan or not – we think that’s something worth celebrating.